The Sindicato de Trabajadores Universitarios – SINTRAUNICOL (Colombian University Workers Union) is a University based national trade union that unites employees and workers from the 29 National Public Funded Universities in Colombia. The union currently has nearly 6,500 members. The workers are state employees.
One of the biggest recent problems has been the sharp reduction in university employees, leading to essential positions not being filled. Where new appointments are made it is normally on an hourly or short-term contract basis that negatively affects the quality of educational provision. Furthermore, budget reductions have drastically reduced research activities.
The South Wetsern Regional Branch of SINTRAUNICOL is located at the Universidad del Valle (Univalle), in Colombia’s second city of Cali. This branch has 780 members.
Univalle is heavily in debt. By 1998 the university owed US$23 million and that increased to US$25 million due to default charges for non-repayment. During the years 2000 and 2001 the university administration began renegotiating the loan, which ultimately led to the banks becoming owners of large parts of the university as part payment. Furthermore, the University still had to pay approximately US$80 thousand per annum as part of the debt repayment. Another part of the agreement was to give the banks greater influence over the day-to-day management of the University.
These locally specific factors, coupled with the national legislation have led to increased tension in the University and resistance has taken the form of occupations, marches, and strikes. SINTRAUNICOL has developed a two pronged strategy: firstly, the defence of the State funded Public University in opposition to privatisation and corruption; and secondly, the defence of the economic, social and political rights of its members.
In the second term of 2002, the government once again issued a new decree, which this time sought to remove certain financial and social benefits awarded to civil servants. This decree should not even have applied to University employees, however, the University administration decided to implement it in order to force through yet further cutbacks. The union presented all the legal arguments to highlight the inapplicability of the decree. Despite our protestations the University administration applied the decree beginning on September 1st, 2002. We continue to develop a range of strikes, demonstrations and activities to reverse this decision.
The response to all the above activities has been yet more threats, intimidations and financial punishments. The University has withheld union dues collected directly from salaries, which has forced us to borrow heavily from banks and cooperatives. In the last 9 weeks we have had to borrow US $3,000 and in the earlier strikes of 2002 we borrowed US $2,500. All our activities have great costs, which include buying food for members, paying transport costs and these have been continuous since 1998. We have also been actively involved and supported a range of other trade union and social organisations in their struggles in recent months such as SINTRAEMCALI (successful struggle against the privatisation of water, telecommunications, and electricity in the region) and SINDISENA (partially successful struggle against cutbacks in state technical colleges – which provide one of the few avenues for working class students to enter higher education).
For all this resistance all our members are in serious danger, particularly the local leadership in Cali. SINTRAUNICOL in Cali has been given special protection measures by the Organisation of American States, which includes armed bodyguards, bulletproof cars and walkie-talkies. Despite the dangers we are determined to struggle against privatisation and corruption, and against the neoliberal economic model being implemented by the fascist government of Uribe Velez.
International Solidarity – your voice and assistance – is a vital component in the struggle of the Colombian people.
In Solidarity, Friendship and Respect